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Most Hated Man

September 26, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Turing Pharmaceuticals founder Martin Shkreli has recently been named the most hated man on the internet. That is quite an “honour” because there is a lot of very worthy competition. The previous holder of the title was generally thought to be Walter Palmer, the American dentist who killed Cecil the lion. It certainly seems that anyone bad enough to take the title from him must be a real bastard! And yes, this guy clearly is.

Note that in both of these cases nothing illegal was involved, so it seems that doing something immoral is actually worse than doing something illegal, at least according to the extremely thoughtful commentators on ethics from internet forums (extreme sarcasm there, but a certain amount of truth as well according to wisdom of crowds and that sort of thing).

This fits with my own thoughts. While most laws are based on reasonable and fair ideas (don’t kill other people, don’t steal from them, etc) in the details they are essentially arbitrary. In fact they are worse than that because there is a clear bias in many laws favouring the rich and powerful even though in many cases they have the lowest moral standards and need the least legal protection.

So yes, doing something wrong should always be seen as worse than doing something merely illegal. But getting back to this particular example of immorality. What did this scumbag actually do?

Well, Martin Shkreli is described as “an American hedge fund manager and entrepreneur”. The word “entrepreneur” can mean anything, from someone who genuinely creates new products or services which benefit society to someone who has just through native cunning found a way to manipulate the system for his own benefit. Guess which this guy is! As far as “hedge fund manager” is concerned, well I don’t think any comment is necessary, except these people represent pretty much the worst part of modern capitalism (and yes, I realise hedge funds can be put to good uses, but are generally not).

Shkreli bought the rights for a drug called “Daraprim” and increased the price by over 50 times, from $13.50 to $750 per tablet. He might have seen it as just a business deal but the reality is this drug is relied on by people with a rather nasty disease called toxoplasmosis (try a Google image search on this one) caused by a parasite and can severely affect those with compromised immune systems.

The increased price (which he has been forced to decrease) would have surely lead to a lot of suffering amongst people with the disease. But did he care? I very much doubt it.

But this is capitalism working the way it is supposed to. Many people would pay the new price just because they have to. So you could say the market would support almost any price the seller wanted to impose. The drug is out of patent but (as far as I am aware) no other company makes it so there is not even the rather doubtful protection of normal competitive forces working here. Other companies might start making it for less but their setup costs would be high and Shkreli’s company could then drop their price and quite likely destroy the new competitor.

But it’s not really Shkreli’s fault, so what is the problem here? Simply that capitalism doesn’t work. It never has and never will. I mean it’s OK for things that don’t matter like selling Coke, but it can’t be trusted for healthcare and other stuff which is actually important.

The problem is not that he broke the law or didn’t follow the rules, it is that he followed the rules too well. What he did is exactly what pure capitalism demands: to see an opportunity and use your entrepreneurial skills to use that opportunity to maximise your profit. He might be hated, but over-achievers often are. The problem is that he is an over-achiever in a corrupt system.

There is one final point I should make. This is the sort of phenomenon we are allowing to take control if we sign up for the TPP. Corporations will be able to use the rules of commerce to make more money while inflicting massive suffering on the population as a whole. They probably won’t do anything as obvious and crass as what Shkreli did, but the underlying motives will be exactly the same.

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